So just what is this all about anyway? This fuss about Love, Weddings and Electric Trains?
 
THE WEDDING TOUR - SATURDAY 16th MARCH 2002

"We couldn't work out where to have the reception.. so we had it everywhere".


The idea of putting a party on a moving suburban train is not new. The successful attempt on 16th March 2002 actually had it's origin as "Rock on the Rails" more than 14 years earlier in 1987, an idea which for many reasons back then didn't get off the ground. In 1989, there were some limited attempts in Melbourne to create a Saturday Night "Youth Train" by placing a small live band on an existing service which received limited media attention. The wedding reception of Paul and Sashi Matthews in 2002 was an ideal opportunity to resurrect the idea.

State Rail owned preserved electric set "F1" was used for the event. This 1927 vintage carset is one of several trains retained by NSW State Rail Heritage, which also includes a 4 car "W set and a 4 car "U" interurban set. Historic Electric Traction (HET), a non profit volunteer group (in a unique agreement unlike other NSW preservation groups) maintains the carriages in operating condition and has been slowly undertaking restoration work since 1999 with regular Sunday work days at the old Evelegh railway workshops - now known as Redfern Heritage Centre. It comes as no surprise that both bride and groom are members, and have spent many days sanding and painting alongside HET fellow volunteers in preparation for the big day.

Whilst a number of years ago State Rail were originally content to retain their fleet of historic vehicles for static display only, the agreement with HET has enabled a select number of cars to be retained in trafficable condition and available for hire both by HET for their own tours, and also other preservation groups looking for a tour charter with a difference. Further ongoing assistance has been given by State Rail's own Flemington Maintenance Centre staff with help from Cityrail Crewing to ensure that enough drivers and guards remain qualified in the stock to enable special tours to take place. State Rail's own Special Events division retain control over the trains for tours use and (in the case of the manually operated door trains) require special legal and insurance contracts to be signed by the hirer prior to any charter taking place.

The Wedding Tour added another level of complexity, especially due to the need to provide 240v electrical power for the various activities that would take place on the train during the trip. For this purpose State Rail Parcel Van / Brake Test Car C3653 (with pantograph lowered) was employed to house two 7kVa petrol generating sets, with special cabling providing temporary power to the rock band equipment and catering equipment on the train. Car C3218 became the "Band Car" with addition of equipment for a 4 piece band including full drum kit, bass and electric guitar, electric keyboard, brass and vocals. The car was equipped with a 3kW rock & roll BOSE PA system, and also a full lighting rig with coloured floodlights, party lights and even a large rotating mirror ball in the centre of the saloon (which rocked more than it rotated!)

Newly restored car T4527 was used as a "catering car" with addition of several pie warmers, electric urns and cold drink stations. Cars C7396 (restored by HET in 2001) and C3426 (Repainted externally and housing HET members who wished to accompany the special charter) completed the train makeup. Special "Just Married" headboards and suitable decorations also adorned the train. Many hours were spent at Flemington Maintenance Centre preparing the train, installing and securing the tons of food and equipment, and ensuring all safety conditions were met prior to departure. Even the date of the wedding had to be changed to suit State Rail constraints, the original chosen date of 23rd March, having become too difficult to table due to the additional Easter Show services scheduled.

After a long series of cloudy and cool days, Mother Nature decided to suddenly turn on the sun on Saturday 16th March much to the initial delight of the bride and groom. That delight later turned to gasps and sighs for cool as the temperature continued to rise into the mid '30s and the traditional wedding attire was becoming rather inappropriate to the Australian outdoors. So too were conditions aboard the train which were uncomfortably hot when it was not moving. Fortunately fast running and open windows were the order of the day, which led to an early arrival at St Marys Platform 3, 10 minutes early at 15:19 after having stopped only at Lidcombe to pick up the compliment of HET members travelling in C3426.

After boarding the 80 invited guests were soon watching the world go rapidly by in one of the "quieter" cars, or listening to band "Decizion" warm things up in No. 1 end of C3218.. competing valiantly against the two 360hp electric motors screaming for all their life just below as the train powered back along the Western line for a brief stop at Clyde platform 3. Here an unusually large compliment of Cityrail passengers on the platform were suddenly treated to some instant trackside entertainment before the party sped off again around Lidcombe loop and paused briefly at Birrong for a photo stop to take advantage of the sun, the band taking a break as the disco music was cranked up. All but the youngest travellers however felt rather too hot to dance and were more content to just sit and let the train do the dancing for them.

Bankstown station was passed at 16:35 - just in time. Because little did the wedding party know, but this was to be the scene of severe drama only an hour later with the line closed due to a huge fire and collapsing walls from an adjacent shopping centre! We could barely believe the reports as the train radios sputtered out news of the emergency, knowing that had we been even a bit behind .... the whole trip may have been a disaster!

But luck was not all our way. As the band began cranking once more, we realised that the planned stop at Sydenham to reverse was impossible due to the local lines being out of use at short notice with no overhead power. This meant we had to continue on to Redfern Platform 1 to reverse putting the train behind another local service. The inevitable delays meant we were 10 minutes down by the time we reached Sutherland where we stopped for an extended break, figuring that we may as well let the local arrive at Cronulla before following it any further.

A brisk run down the Cronulla line saw us traverse the run around and pass the local Tangara to shunt back into the end of the platform for a photo run before terminating for an extended stop to serve the food, a special cake cutting ceremony on the platform, and fine vocal entertainment from Barlow Mei. With the final rash of wedding photos over, the bride and groom wasted no time using the guards' compartment of T4527 as a quick change room into something more comfortable - the bride emerging in a wonderful red party dress, the bridesmaid in a fabulous yellow number, and the groom in his trademark and defiant blue bike shorts and tee shirt. The party had begun.

An on time departure at 18:55 saw the train under dusk skies and the bright flashing lights inside C3218 picking out the landscape as the train travelled northwards to the city. After traversing an impossible number of points at the flying junctions the train pulled into Platform 17 at Central to briefly wait for another service to depart before following it. Again it didn't take long for people on Platform 18 to get into the groove, with even the ASM seen dancing to the sounds of Johnny B Goode in his glass cabin at the centre of the platform. Soon it was off over the rarely used Tivoli crossover and through the underground where equally stunned passengers on the platforms watched as this strange, red thumping and whining snake slid past looking nothing like the next train to Hornsby!

The feeling in the band car reached fever pitch past Wynyard as the scream from C3218's motors below the band announced that we were heading over the Bridge, a significance also not lost on HET members travelling in C3426 - the same car to have been in the official train at the opening of the Harbour bridge almost exactly 70 years earlier. A brief stop featured for a heavenly photo opportunity at Milsons point before we rolled into Platform 2 North Sydney at 20:11, 6 minutes down.

Shortly afterwards a neighbouring terminating Cityrail service divulged over 300 passengers onto the platform to await another connecting service.. the crowd becoming an instant audience for the Band as they continued to belt out the dance and jazz tunes to the amazement of many passers by - distracted only briefly by the groom who by now had morphed into an even more outrageous figure hugging "Power Ranger" spandex outfit.

After a final farewell, the Wedding Tour whistled out of North Sydney on time at 20:33 - and steadily gathered speed for the return journey home. Tearing down the track without stopping (impossible to tell.. it was dark outside) ole' F1 put on a real show of speed. The band hurried to play their last set of songs which was planned to commence as they passed Strathfield…

But by the time they were playing Westmead had become a blur, and by the end of the song Blacktown was a memory and with most people content to mention stations like "Oh, that was Pendle Hill" little did they know it was really Rooty Hill, and the train pulled into St Marys Platform 4 at 21:20 - over 20 minutes EARLY and with what must have been some sort of speed record for a North Sydney to St Marys run of only 47 minutes! With the tour complete, most of the heavy equipment was offloaded to awaiting trucks at St Marys using the platform lifts before the train returned to Lidcombe and terminated to the sheds at 22:34.

The "Wedding tour", apart from being a personal dream of the (perhaps over zealous) groom was a trial run for a new kind of Suburban Electric train experience - special themed charters using the old State Rail preserved trains. If you know of anyone who might be interested in chartering the train for similar uses, Historic Electric Traction can be contacted on (02) 9623-4111 or at their website,

<het.org.au>

They run workdays at Redfern on most Sundays and are also looking for more enthusiastic (speed demon) rail fans to join in the fun of restoring Sydney's State Rail owned "Red Rattlers" for tours. It is hoped that within the next year or so work will begin on the "U Boat" Interurban cars which when operating will add a further dimension, being able to go anywhere in the electrified system. Come along!